SHE makes it her point of duty to always be creative and multidimensional within her discipline. Dr Charah Watson Francis, 33, is the chemist behind Kihara Cosmetics, a premium line of all-natural hair, skin and nail beauty solutions.
Born and raised in Kingston, Dr Watson Francis told All Woman that her love for chemistry developed out of her fascination with plants as a child.
“My father is a Rasta man, and herbs in the general sense were always a part of us. My daddy used to make roots and we would hide and steal it,” she said. “Also, my friend Stacy and I would always go to Hope Gardens to study for CXC and there was this big tree that produced fruits that no one, not even the animals, would eat. But I said it must have a purpose and one day I will figure it out. I haven't done so yet, but that led me down the path to becoming a chemist.”
And so after leaving high school, Dr Watson Francis enrolled in the Bachelor of Science in Food and General Chemistry programme at the University of the West Indies, Mona, then went on to do a Master of Philosophy programme, before upgrading to the PhD degree, which she received in 2012 for her thesis titled, “Composition and Properties of Selected Piperaceae and Rutaceae Essential Oils and their Role in Control Measures Against Two Invasive Citrus Pests”.
But in 2010 while still doing her research, Dr Watson Francis entered the Scientific Research Council's Innovations in Science and Technology Competition, teaming with the following persons: Dr Trevor Yee, the principal investigator and her PhD research supervisor; Eric Garraway, Dwight Robinson and Nemoi Chisholm. The research project titled, “The Development of Control Measures Against Two Invasive Citrus Pests — The Chequered Citrus Swallowtail (Papilio demoleus) and the Citrus Dog (Heraclides andraemon)” won the overall prize of Innovator of the Year as well as the first prize in the Manufacturing, Agriculture and Food category.
Within that same year, two United States provisional patents were issued for this work, and Dr Watson Francis was able to present the research publicly at a conference at the Florida Entomology Society's annual meeting. She earned second place for the presentation and a travel grant.
Dr Watson Francis said, however, that despite her love for science, she did not fit the perception of a typical scientist as she always sought to step outside of her comfort zone and use her research to drive a business idea.
On top of that, she said she was always interested in creating beauty products, which earned her the moniker “hot chemist”. Nevertheless, she explained that she suffered bad acne outbreaks, and being a chemist she decided to manufacture her own products in an attempt to cure the problem. As a result, Kihara Cosmetics was born.
“The name is a combination of my husband's name — Kino — and mine. Kihara was born out of how to first accept the skin you're in and work with natural remedies to enhance beauty. In 2010, alongside doing everything, I started developing and formulating the products. Back then I saw a need for trusted, all-natural and organic treatment products geared towards solving common hair, skin and nail issues affecting a broad cross section of Caribbean nationals,” she said.
However, the line of products grew even further, when she realised part of her contribution to being a “hot chemist” was not compatible with her work life.
“I was in the lab mixing with nail tips on and my nails would go black when I couldn't fill them in time because of my schedule. I said there must be something to treat this, and that's how I started working on my nail treatment oil, and I've never had any fungus since,” she said.
Dr Watson Francis added: “Then dandruff was the other issue. My husband had dandruff, and the product he was using wasn't helping. It is a similar kind of fungus in the nail, so I knew that with a few modifications I could create something to treat the dandruff. So I did that, he started using it, and now his scalp is nice. I eventually ended up with the dandruff and began using the treatment and now I have a nice scalp too.”
The original group of seven products has now grown to 20 products under five different categories which include hair care solutions, skin care, face and beard care as well as nail care and lip conditioners.
Dr Watson Francis, who in 2011 received the International Year of Chemistry award from the Sao Paulo Advanced School of Natural Products, Medicinal Chemistry and Natural Chemistry and the Third World Academy of Science Young Scientist Award, says she sees Kihara becoming a lifestyle brand comparable to Victoria's Secret, and hopes to build an empire that can last for generations.For the academic year 2010/2011, she also received the Principal's Award for the Most Outstanding Research Activity for the Pure and Applied Sciences and the Dean of the Pure and Applied Sciences Award for Outstanding Research Activity. She also received a research fellowship from the University of Maryland, Institute of Human Virology in 2011.
Dr Watson Francis has also worked as the technical director at the Bio-Tech R&D Institute alongside Dr Henry Lowe, developing more than 30 products that have been brought to the market.
In 2012 she once again entered the Scientific Research Council's Innovation Awards, this time capturing the award of Young Scientist of the Year, based on her research and development activities at Bio-Tech R & D Institute.
She was also heavily involved in anti-cancer, anti-diabetes and anti-HIV/AIDS research papers, which have been published in scientific journals and have led to patents being issued.
Dr Watson Francis now works as the manager for product research and development at the Scientific Research Council and is also a champion for more people who are looking to this field as a career option.
“There are endless possibilities, always more to be done, always something to add value to, and that's the beauty of it. Research is essential to know what has been done, what are the gaps, and how to move forward,” she said.
With an only daughter named Kihara, Dr Watson Francis is an avid 'Youtuber' who enjoys baking, sewing her own clothes and drapes, cooking, painting, and mountain cycling with Fun and Thrills Adventure Club. Her home is decorated with her handiwork. She boasts that some of her skills which include baking Christmas cake, sewing, statistical analysis and Photoshop for her product branding were all learnt from Youtube.
She encourages youth to step beyond the space they know and to always have a thirst for knowledge.